Paint the Town Read

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These pages hold many of our favorite Denver references; more than seventy additional entries can be found online at www.westword.com, starting Friday, January 5. Reading through the excerpts is a fascinating jaunt through the nooks and crannies, old haunts and new places that make Denver the type of town that once did -- and still can -- create a man like Cassady and entice a writer known as Jack Kerouac.

"I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheat fields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last."

1. Platte River

Roughing It, 1872

Mark Twain

Presently we got under way again. We came to the shallow, yellow, muddy South Platte, with its low banks and its scattering of flat sand-bars and pigmy islands -- a melancholy stream straggling through the centre of the enormous flat plain, and only saved from being impossible to find with the naked eye by its sentinel rank of scattering trees standing on either bank. The Platte was "up," they said -- which made me wish I could see it when it was down, if it could look any sicker and sorrier. They said it was a dangerous stream to cross, now, because its quicksands were liable to swallow up horses, coach and passengers if an attempt was made to ford it. But the mails had to go, and we made the attempt. Once or twice in midstream the wheels sunk into the yielding sands so threateningly that we half believed we had dreaded and avoided the sea all our lives to be shipwrecked in a "mud-wagon" in the middle of a desert at last. But we dragged through and sped away toward the setting sun.

2. Platte River

The First Third, 1971

Neal Cassady

Where the South Platte River passes beneath the 15th Street bridge of angle iron and squeaking wood, we would climb down a dozen feet to the gravel river bottom. Here was where most of our Sunday P.M.'s were spent, as we strolled to and fro over the several hundred yards of semi-beach between 15th and 17th Streets. My concern was skipping rocks over the water to count the number of times I managed to make them bounce.

3. Champa Street

Specimen Days & Collect, 1882

Walt Whitman

Through the long-lingering half-light of the most superb of evenings we return'd to Denver, where I staid several days leisurely exploring, receiving impressions, with which I may as well taper off this memorandum, itemizing what I saw there. The best was the men, three-fourths of them large, able, calm, alert, AmericanŠ.

A city, this Denver, well-laid out -- Laramie street, and 15th and 16th and Champa streets, with others, particularly fine -- some with tall storehouses of stone or iron, and windows of plate-glass -- all the streets with little canals of mountain water running along the sides -- plenty of people, "business," modernness -- yet not without a certain racy wild smack, all its own. A place of fast horses, (many mares with their colts,) and I saw lots of big greyhounds for antelope hunting. Now and then groups of miners, some just come in, some starting out, very picturesque....

So much for my feeling toward the Queen city of the plains and peaks, where she sits in her delicious rare atmosphere, over 5000 feet above sea-level, irrigated by mountain streams, one way looking east over the prairies for a thousand miles, and having the other, westward, in constant view by day, draped in their violet haze, mountain tops innumerable. Yes, I fell in love with Denver, and even felt a wish to spend my declining and dying days there.

4. 16th Street Mall

Seeds of Doubt, 2004

Stephanie Kane

At a quarter past eleven on a weekday morning, seats were already in demand at the Sixteenth Street Mall. As Jackie threaded her way through the businessmen, construction workers and tourists jamming the pedestrian corridor, she slowed her pace. This was one date she didn't want to be early for.

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Amy Haimerl